BC Wildfire Service moves to a year-round workforce

The agency employs approximately 1,000 wildland firefighters

BC Wildfire Service 2022 budget
Minister of Finance Selina Robinson presented the 2022 budget for British Columbia on February 22, 2022.

The government of British Columbia intends to move to a year-round workforce for the Wildfire Service in the next fiscal year that begins April 1. In a February 22 presentation Minister of Finance Selina Robinson said, “$145 million in new funding will strengthen B.C.’s emergency management and wildfire services.  The BC Wildfire Service will shift from a reactive to a proactive approach by moving to a year-round workforce that will deliver all pillars of emergency management: prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.”

The BC Wildfire Service employs approximately 1,000 wildland firefighters each year.

The new budget will allow improvements of the public alerting system for wildfires and help support people and communities during climate-related events.

An additional $98 million will fund wildfire prevention work and maintain forest service roads used to respond to forest fires.

The budget also includes $210 million to support community climate change preparedness and emergency management, including through the FireSmart program, the Community Emergency Preparedness Fund, and Indigenous-led emergency management priorities. It will support communities and First Nations to build more resilient dikes and map floodplains.

Smoke forecast, 11 pm MDT July 31, 2021

Smoke forecast
Smoke forecast for 11 p.m. MDT July 31, 2021.

For the last couple of days wildfires in Southern British Columbia have been producing large quantities of smoke which has been drifting into Alberta, North-central US, the American Midwest, and points further east. The forecast for Saturday night indicates this trend is continuing.

Clouds have made it difficult for satellites to photograph smoke coming from the Bootleg Fire in Oregon and the Dixie Fire in California.

Satellite photo smoke wildfires British Columbia Montana
Satellite photo showing smoke from fires in BC and Montana at 7:40 p.m. MDT July 30, 2021.

British Columbia bracing for very high temperatures as fires prompt evacuations

As of Wednesday night BC had 248 active fires, 36 of which were designated “fires of note”

Active wildfires and evacuation zones in Southern British Columbia
Active wildfires and evacuation areas in Southern British Columbia, 7 a.m. PDT July 30, 2021. The red lines represent wildfire perimeters. BC Wildfire Service.

British Columbia is having another year with higher than average wildfire activity due to hot, dry weather in recent weeks.

British Columbia Public Weather Alerts, 7 a.m. PDT July 30, 2021
BC Public Weather Alerts, 7 a.m. PDT July 30, 2021.

On Thursday in Lytton, BC the temperature reached 47.9 degrees Celsius (118F), the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada.

Hot weather is expected to continue through Saturday with many areas in the southern part of the province under Weather Alerts for heat where temperatures could reach or exceed 37 degrees Celsius (100F) while the relative humidity will be in the teens. The wind will be moderate in most areas, 5 to 7 mph with gusts to 8 or 10 mph.

Forrest Tower, a spokesman with the wildfire service, said, “We may get a bit of a break from the wind as this ridge kind of has a stable air mass over these fires, but the added challenge is that even if it may not be strong winds, any wind will have a significant influence on these fires.”

June’s extreme heat affected the fatality rate in BC. From the CBC July 29, 2021:

B.C.’s chief coroner has confirmed the majority of people who died suddenly during the week of June’s record-breaking heat wave lost their lives as a direct result of the extreme temperatures.

Lisa Lapointe confirmed in an interview Thursday morning that 570 of the 815 sudden deaths recorded over that time period — 70 per cent — have now been deemed “heat related.”

“[If not] for the extreme heat, they would not have died at that time,” Lapointe said during an interview with CBC’s The Early Edition.

According to Lapointe, 79 per cent of those who died were 65 or older.

As of Wednesday night BC had 248 active fires, 36 of which were designated “fires of note” that were highly visible or posed a potential threat to public safety. The 3,693 personnel assigned to the fires includes 316 from out of the province and Australia.

Currently there are 62 evacuation orders in effect for 3,443 properties.

For weeks the fires in BC have been producing dense smoke that generally spreads to the east and occasionally into the United States.

Here is the smoke forecast for 9 p.m. MDT July 31, 2021.

Smoke forecast
Smoke forecast for 9 p.m. MDT July 31, 2021. Firesmoke.ca.

Satellite photo, wildfires in the Northwest, July 29, 2021

Satellite photo smoke wildfire
Satellite photo 7:10 p.m. PDT July 29, 2021

The wildfires in Southeast British Columbia, Northern Washington, Northern Idaho, and Northwest Montana were putting up a lot of smoke Thursday at 7:10 p.m. PDT. NASA GOES 17.

Wildfire south of Kelowna, BC likely started by sky lantern

Peachland, British Columbia sky lantern
Wildfire near a home in Peachland, British Columbia on March 16, 2021 likely started by a sky lantern. Photo by Kevin Tameling.

A flaming object that fell from the sky ignited a fire 10 to 15 feet from a home  in Peachland, British Columbia on March 16. Firefighters responded quickly and suppressed the blaze, but after it had burned part of a homeowner’s deck and singed the siding.

Initially some residents thought it was space debris or a meteorite, but video indicates it was most likely a sky lantern.

At seven seconds in the video below several bright objects separate from a single bright object. Most of the new objects disappear but the largest is seen falling to the ground over the next 29 seconds.

This is consistent with what happens when the paper hot air balloon above a a sky lantern is ignited by the flames underneath. Depending on the altitude parts of the paper can burn completely or partially before they hit the ground, and the candle or burning oil may continue to burn as it falls, then possibly igniting any receptive fuel on the ground.

These dangerous devices use burning material to loft a small paper or plastic hot air balloon into the air. The perpetrator has no control over where it lands. Usually the fire goes out before it hits the ground, but not always. Sometimes the envelope catches fire while in flight. Numerous fires have been started on the ground by sky lanterns. Even if they don’t ignite a fire, they leave litter on the ground. Metal parts have been picked up by hay balers causing serious problems when fed to livestock

Sky lanterns are illegal in at least 30 states.

On December 31, 2019, New Years Eve, a sky lantern caused a fire in a zoo in Western Germany that killed more than 30 animals, including apes, monkeys, bats, and birds, authorities said.

In March of 2019 a sky lantern landing on the roof was the most likely cause of a fire that resulted in about $40,000 in damage to a business in Burlington, Vermont.

In October, 2018 surveillance camera footage in Goyang, Korea showed a sky lantern starting a fire in grass that spread to and destroyed a tank holding 2.66 million liters of gasoline, enough to fill 250 tank trucks.

In September, 2018 a sky lantern was suspected of causing a power outage on a railroad in Hong Kong, causing four trains to be disrupted for 25 minutes until repairs were made.

Here are a few other examples of damage from sky lanterns: a warehouse in the Philippines, an Olympic venue in Rio, 15 people injured and 4 homes destroyed in India, 4 homes and a boat dock in Michigan, a four-plex structure in California, and six million British pounds worth of damage to a recycling facility in England.

Sky Lantern poster
Volunteer Wildfire Service, South Africa.

Increasing fire weather severity expected to bring extreme conditions to areas of Canada’s western provinces

Conditions in June and July are expected to be well above average.

Canada Fire Weather Severity forecast May, 2020

Forecasts are showing that fire weather severity in the western provinces of Canada will be increasing in May, and by June will be in the Extreme category in large areas of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Northwest Territories.

Conditions in June and July are expected to be well above average, according to data from the Canadian Wildland Fire Information System provided by the Canadian Meteorological Centre, a branch of Environment Canada.

Canada Fire Weather Severity forecast June, 2020 Canada Fire Weather Severity forecast July, 2020